by Chris McCoy
In 1984, Prince had just come off of a smash hit record two years earlier: the double album 1999, which spawned four top 10 Billboard hits and sold 4 million copies. The success convinced Warner Brothers to produce a film to go with his next release. Director Albert Magnoli, a Prince associate, was tapped to direct the film, which would be a music video-inspired musical to capitalize on the craze that MTV had spawned two years before. The first hint America got of the Prince juggernaut that would dominate the airwaves for the rest of the decade was the revolutionary “When Doves Cry”, released on May 9, 1984, with a video that featured chunks of montage taken straight from the film famously intercut with shots of Prince naked in a bathtub.
Purple Rain is both a loosely based autobiography of Prince and a document of the burgeoning Minneapolis music scene of the 1980s. Almost everyone in the film uses his or her real names, except, strangely, Prince, who is referred to as “The Kid”. The characters are outgrowths of the performers’ stage personas, especially the show-stealing Morris Day, Prince’s rival both musically and for the affections of Apollonia Kotero. Today, it comes off as surprisingly forward looking in some respect: Prince’s band The Revolution are black and white, straight, gay, and probably polysexual people who treat each other as musical and social equals. The Kid comes off as an immensely talented but very troubled musician who is irresistibly sexy but kind of a jerk and someone you probably wouldn’t want to date in real life. In other words, Prince wasn’t really acting. Tellingly, Prince’s best scene in the film has The Kid using a puppet to talk to his bandmates. He will show himself naked in the bath, but never let anyone get close enough to see the real person behind the performer.
Particularly relevant today is the music’s experimental electronic streak, epitomized by “When Doves Cry” and its sparse, airy arrangement and the mid-movie suite “Computer Blue.” The music is so strong that one of Prince’s most revered songs of the 80s, “Erotic City,” which inspired a generation of knob-twirling synth bands, is not even on the soundtrack or in the film — it was a B-side to the “Let’s Go Crazy” single.
Just last week it was reported that Prince had regained the rights to the Purple Rain-era material in a new deal with Warner Brothers, after going so far as changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol of his own design to get out of his original contract obligations with the media conglomerate. A deluxe reissue of the soundtrack and film is reportedly in the works for the 30th anniversary in June, but until then, the Time Warp Drive-In is a perfect place to re-experience one of the greatest music movies of all time.
Time Warp Drive-In
Hustle & Flow, Purple Rain, Super Fly, and Coffy
With new short films during intermissions from MUFF (Memphis Underground Film Festival)
Saturday, April 26th, dusk